BOOK BIZ: This book is calling all readers who love Tuscany

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Published: May 17,2013

Tags: Ben Downing, Lynn Lofton, Queen Bee of Tuscany

"Queen Bee of Tuscany" by Ben Downing is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($28 hardcover).

“Queen Bee of Tuscany” by Ben Downing is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux ($28 hardcover).

If, like many people, you’re enamored with Tuscany, you’ll want to read this book when it’s released in mid-June. It’s a biography of an amazing woman who lived in Italy from the time of the unification of the Italian states in the 19th century (Risorgimento) to the rise of fascism. We feature a lot of fiction in Book Biz, but this week we’re shining the spotlight on a work of non-fiction that is begging to be read.

Janet Ross was born into a distinguished intellectual family and raised among luminaries such as Dickens and Thackeray. She was spirited, erudite and supremely well-connected and was one of the most dynamic women of her day. Her life offers a fascinating window on fascinating times.

Ross married at age 18 and went to live in Egypt where for six years she wrote for the London Times, hobnobbed with the developer of the Suez Canal and humiliated pashas in horse races. In 1867 she moved to Florence, Italy, where she spent the remaining 60 years of her life. She wrote a series of books and hosted a colorful miscellany of friends and neighbors, from Mark Twain to Bernard Berenson, at Poggio Gherardo, her castle outside town.

Eventually she became the acknowledged doyenne of the Anglo-Florentines — as they were known. She also immersed herself in the rural life of Tuscany. As an avid agriculturalist, she closely supervised the farms on her estate and the sharecroppers who worked them, often pitching in on grape and olive harvests. Encompassing all this rich history, Queen Bee of Tuscany promises to be a panoramic portrait of an age, a family and our evolving love affair with Tuscany.

Ben Downing has credentials as a literary scholar. He has taught literary workshops and written many essays, articles and reviews for the Paris Review and the New Criterion to name a few. He has also published a book of poetry, The Calligraphy Shop, and is co-editor of Parnassus in New York City. Queen Bee of Tuscany is 352 pages with eight pages of black and white illustrations.

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